Every so often a translation comes along that not only gives the reader an accurate understanding of the original writer’s thoughts, but also redefines the norm of what to do in a translation. Reb Zev Bar Eitan’s Abravanel’s World of Torah (on Bereishis, published by Renaissance Torah Press) is just such a work. It is not a literal translation of the Abravanel’s classic commentary on Chumash—it is more like a restatement.
The Abravanel lived between 1437 and 1508, a transitional figure between the Rishonim and the Acharonim of Biblical commentary. The great roshei yeshiva and ba’alei mussar of the Slabodka tradition have used the Abravanel in their shmuessim. But for some reason, their talmidim have not.
Why not? Because, truth to tell, his commentary can be confusing in the “instant coffee” generation of Chumash consumerism. The Abravanel’s depth and profundity lie behind layers and layers of questions that the contemporary reader does not wish to trudge through.
Enter Reb Zev Eitan. Clearly, he is an experienced teacher who is attuned to the learning styles of modern students.
His restatement unfolds many latent processes of understanding in the work of this remarkable Rishon. The ordinary reader might easily overlook these in the original, but they are definitely there to be found within the subtleties of the Abravanel’s wording. His elucidation of these is one extraordinary aspect of this translation.
A second aspect of the translation is Reb Zev’s couching of the thoughts and concepts in the contemporary vernacular without diluting or changing the Abravanel’s thought. This serves to speak to the modern reader, bringing the text to life. An example? On page 61 he describes Adam HaRishon’s errors.
“Man was his own undoing. His gross misapplication of creation’s purpose beset great potential. He failed to thrive. Big time.” The vivid imagery that Reb Zev employs serves the Abravanel well. “Comprised of equal parts of dust and eternal soul, he chose dust. Choice carries consequence and Adam slunk, soiled.”
A second example, regarding the Akeidah of Yitzchak:
“Binding and offering of Yitzchak set a monumental precedent. Human reason needs to temper ideas and notions, subjecting them ultimately to the Torah and highest reason: that latches man to Hashem’s altar.”
The eloquence of the translator here imbues the work with new life. It is a work that cannot easily be put down. I highly recommend this translation to anyone who wishes to enter into the depth of the Abravanel’s thought processes. And personally, I cannot wait for the next volumes to come out. v
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.